The Confederate Debate About Arming the Slaves

Here’s historian John Coski of the American Civil War Museum discussing the debate on arming slaves held in the confederacy.

The video’s description reads, “In February 1865 Southern statesmen, soldiers, and civilians were engaged in the last stages of a months-long public debate over a proposal to enlist enslaved and free African-American men “to perform military service.” The Confederate Congress approved the legislation in March and the Army began enlisting African-American soldiers in the weeks before Appomattox. Using manuscripts and printed items from the Museum’s library collections, the Museum’s Historian John Coski explored the debate over enlisting African-American soldiers and its significance for modern debates about “Black Confederates.”

This is really a good talk, and in the last four minutes he does a good job shooting down the black confederate myth.



  1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    The last minute alone kills the Black Confederate idea. Coski makes a clear distinction about who was considered to be a soldier and who was not. The part that is most important is that he stresses it is not his opinion, but rather the opinion of the people in that era who clearly emphasized who a soldier was and who was not. That is where the lack of context comes into play with the heritage crowd who seeks to use a black soldier concept for their ideology.

    The use of primary sources as illustrated by Coski also kills the concept of black confederates. Note how nobody can find anything substantial about armed black soldiers fighting for the confederacy in the letters of confederate soldiers or in dispatches and reports? Instead, the opposite is found, including the raging debate about whether or not to arm slaves to fight. The evidence is right in front of everyone proving there were no black confederate soldiers, yet as usual the heritage crowd ignores all of it in favor of their fantasies.

    1. I agree completely, Jimmy. But of course, there are those who won’t have the intellectual ability to understand that.

  2. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Especially when that evidence comes from the lead historian and librarian at the Museum of the Confederacy. You would think that this in itself would put an end to all the unsubstantiated rhetoric on the subject. I had never heard of the resolutions written by Confederate regiments and brigades and published in the papers. Some years ago I used a quote from Coski — something to the effect of “the whole black Confederacy thing is nonsense” — in one of my “Today” posts but dropped it in 2013 when I couldn’t find a source for it. Any quote I couldn’t footnote got dropped.

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